By Jeffrey V. Smith
There really is gold in them thar hills. The same mountain river valleys, gulches and drainages that set the Colorado Gold Rush in motion more than 150 years ago, continue to attract prospectors today. Some even find what they are looking for.
With gold prices near all-time highs, a weak economy and Colorado known as a mining state, more weekend gold seekers than ever can be found along the state’s waterways. This is especially true in the places gold is known to have been success fully mined, like in Clear Creek and Gilpin counties. Most go home with little to show for their efforts, other than perhaps a pleasant day by the river. More dedicated miners, willing to put in the necessary hard work, can be more successful. In the end, the difference between a good day prospecting or going home empty handed may come down to luck.
With the first substantial gold discovery in the state found near present day Idaho Springs, and Central City, the “richest square mile on earth,” just up the hill, this region of the state is a well-known gold-producing area. It, therefore, is one of the more popular regions people come to search for the precious metal.
For the past 25 years, Ken Reid, owner of Idaho Springs Treasures, 1520 Miner St., has been successfully pulling gold out of Colorado rivers with his buddy Chad Watkins of the Animal Planet television series Ice Gold Gold. For 23 of those years, Reid has been successfully finding gold on his patented mining claim along Clear Creek.
“When I was 16 years old, and could actually drive myself, I’d come up here on my own, Reid said. “I had a sluice box and a pan and I worked myself up.”
The Colorado native admits he has a bad case of “gold fever” that began at an early age. “My grandmother was a bottle collector and had me collecting bottles at three years old in the dump. My uncle was an arrowhead collector, so I’ve been collecting arrowheads my whole life. Then I got a gold pan on a fishing trip when I was seven years old. I dug a lot of bottles as a young kid, and arrowhead collecting. Basically, I’ve been looking for treasure all of my life.”
Reid’s dad and uncle taught him to pan for gold to keep him busy so he’d quit “irritating” them while they fished. “They were like, ‘Here give him a gold pan and tell him to go play in the mud, he’ll keep himself occupied for hours,’” he said. Although he didn’t really find much more than a “bit of dust and stuff,” he became enticed by the lure of finding gold and treasure.”
Watkins was hooked quickly, too. “Once you find a little, you want to find more,” he said. Once Reid found a piece of land on Clear Creek to work, he mined it for a number of years and then bought it from the owner with the gold dust he took off the property. “I made my land payment in gold,” he said.
Reid says his best day prospecting yielded 9.5 ounces in a single day. “When you can actually see the nuggets on the bedrock, it’s a nice day,” Reid said. “Basically it’s a lot of hard work. If you go out and work, you can find gold. You’re not going to find enough to make yourself rich in 20 minutes, but it’s the allure that there’s that one pocket. That one pocket that can make you a multi-millionaire in hours. And they are still out there.”
Most of Reid’s work is done using a dredge, which is a placer mining machine that extracts gold-bearing material from sand, gravel, and dirt using a suction hose. “For me dredging is most lucrative,” he said. We’re finding gold that is already eroded out of the rock. A gold pan is $20, a rock drill is $20,000 and if you don’t like the gun laws, trying buying explosives to blow up rock.”
Dredging requires full diving gear and team-mates to pull off successfully and safely. Reid’s dredge holes can reach as deep as 30 feet and he even has plans to work a flooded mine shaft that will take him 60 feet below the surface. It’s hard work and sometimes dangerous thanks to shifting boulders, strong currents, powerful suction hoses and other dangers inherent with working under water for extended periods of time.
Reid keeps going, he says, because he keeps finding gold. “Only 3 percent of the gold has ever been taken out of the area, if you talk to the professors at the School of Mines. Natural resource-wise, we’re sitting on billions of dollars of worth in this county,” he said.
Other than a few “poor boys out playing,” the only producing mine in the area is the Henderson Mine near Empire. Henderson is the largest primary producer of molybdenum in the world. In operation since 1976, Henderson has produced more than 160 million tons of ore and 770 million pounds of molybdenum during the past 27 years.
While large scale active mining is scarce, there is plenty of mining history to absorb. Several mine tours and mining museum can be found all over the Clear Creek and Peak to Peak regions. See the list below to pick a destination.
Additionally, several local prospectors’ clubs help new and established gold seekers take the hobby further.
In Colorado, panning, sluicing, and dry washing are allowed in all parts of the state that are not prohibited by federal, state or county laws and anyone who hopes they can strike it rich will be able to find numerous places selling needed supplies, and more. The would-be prospector, however, should carefully consider all the pertinent facts and laws before heading out. Most importantly, it must be determined where prospecting is permitted and be aware of the regulations. Boulder County, for example, has a complete ban on any type of prospecting as does any national park. Permission to enter privately-owned land must be obtained from the owner.
While much advice about where to find gold can be found in countless places, ultimately, the best place to look is where other people have previously had success. If all else fails, it can be purchased in Reid’s and other stores. In the end, however, “all the advice is B.S.,” according to Reid. “Gold is where you find it,” he said.
HENDERSON MINE/CLIMAX MOLYBDENUM COMPANY
Empire, CO • 602-366-8100
HIDEE GOLD MINE TOURS
MM 6.3 Central City Pkwy., Central City, CO
Central City, CO • 720-548-0343
LEBANON SILVER MINE/GEORGETOWN LOOP RAILROAD
825 Railroad Ave., Silver Plume, CO • 888-456-6777
PHOENIX GOLD MINE TOURS
I-70 Exit 239/Trail Creek Road
Idaho Springs, CO • 303-567-0422
GOLD HILL MUSEUM
Prospect & Pine streets, Gold Hill, CO • 303-258-4242
IDAHO SPRINGS HERITAGE MUSEUM
2060 Miner St., Idaho Springs CO
JAMES F. BAILEY ASSAY OFFICE MUSEUM
6352 Fourmile Canyon Dr., Wallstreet/Boulder, CO
NEDERLAND MINING MUSEUM
200 N. Bridge St., Nederland, CO
COLORADO PROSPECTORS CLUB
GOLD PROSPECTORS OF THE ROCKIES
ROCKY MOUNTAIN PROSPECTORS & TREASURE HUNTERS CLUB
970-613-8968 • firstname.lastname@example.org
IDAHO SPRINGS TREASURES
1520 Miner St, Idaho Springs, CO • 303-567-2039
CLEAR CREEK WATERSHED FOUNDATION
2060 Miner St., Idaho Springs, CO • 303-567-2699